‘I watched inmates slash themselves, I saw one hurl himself off a balcony’: Ex-prisoner reveals horror of Britain’s jails

“His cell door opened and he jumped straight onto the railings. The prison officer tried to grab him, but he fell head-first. A 10-foot fall. I heard the crack of his neck. Blood coming from his ears and his head. He was in a bad way.”

Cody Lachey got used to witnessing disturbing things in prison. During his two years behind bars, he found himself cleaning up after an inmate had “slashed” themselves in their cell, running to the aid of another who had thrown themselves off a balcony and watching countless prisoners suffer mental breakdowns.

The 33-year-old served time in two Manchester prisons – HMP Strangeways and Forest Bank – for charges of witness intimidation, an assault on police and threats to kill. He was released five months ago and has been clear of the crime world since, describing himself as a “changed man”.

But the “agony” he witnessed inside, he said, will stay with him forever.

It comes as new data reveals that the past year has seen an all-time high in prisoner assaults and self-harm, prompting claims the Government has “turned prisons into powder kegs”. Almost a quarter of prisoners were being held in conditions officially classified as “crowded” and the number of positive random drug tests reached 9.3 per cent.

Released on 10 February, Mr Lachey provides testimony from beyond the headlines and behind prison bars. During his time in Strangeways, where he spent three months, he was locked up for 23 hours a day. At Forest Bank, he became quickly trusted by senior officers, and was offered a job as a cleaner on the wing.

“Being a cleaner meant I wasn’t confined to my cell and I saw what went on,” he told The Independent. “They try their best to stop stories getting out, but the statistics today speak for themselves. The Ministry of Justice is failing prisoners, prisoner officer and prison families alike. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

While working on the wings, Mr Lachey watched a man…

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